Friday, July 18, 2014

hackAhack in light: #clmooc

My friend Maha Bali writes so well, and she is prolific. I've thought about trying to keep up with her, but I can't, so …

Still, she just wrote a wonderful post I ____ therefore I am human that challenges me to think about what it means to be human. She hacks Descartes' famous dictum I think; therefore, I am, shifting away from thinking to feeling, framing her thoughts within the current fighting between Israel and Palestine. She ends up with:
I feel therefore I empathize
I empathize therefore I am human
I think I see her point. Descartes grounded his scientific philosophy in an intellectual reductionism that tends to separate everything, breaking down wholes into the tiniest constituent parts and the most basic of interactions, with the assumption that he could put it back together with a more complete understanding. Well, try that with a frog sometimes. Take the frog apart, identify its constituent parts and the basic processes among those parts, and then put it back together. You don't get a frog. You get Frankenfrog—a monstrous, mechanistic mess with no life in it and little value to you or the frog.

Now try that with a people: Palestinians, European Jews, American Indians … you pick. There are plenty of examples. Try it with a person: your spouse, your children, your students. Take them apart, name their parts and processes, and then try to put them back together. You get Frankenkids and Frankenclasses. When you pull life apart, you lose something really important, and the knowledge or whatever else you gain may not be worth what you lost. Often enough, it isn't.

Now, I am not suggesting that a reductionist scientific point of view has no value. It does. As Edgar Morin has stated, much of the advances in modern culture can be directly attributed to the patient, inexorable workings of reductionistic science. But it isn't enough, and by itself, that kind of thought blinds us as much as it enlightens. We need something more.

We need a complex science that incorporates feelings along with intellect. Intellect alone will kill us. Intellect counterpoised with feeling just might save us. I don't suggest that the one resolves into the other; rather, they maintain a delicate, creative tension that informs the other without ever subsuming or canceling the other. They keep in dialogue, never completely agreeing, never disengaging, knowing that both are richer for the other, that one without the other is madness.

We need a science that values connections as much as it values separation. I connect with Maha Bali. We both connect with the communities of Rhizo14 and CLMOOC. I think it's those connections that make us human. Without those living connections, we are merely Frankenpeople.

So I want to hack Maha's hack. I want to make a hackAhack:

I connect to others; therefore, I am human. I could have used the word engage instead of connect. I've been using engage and engagement more in my writing lately, but I'll stick with connect and connection in this post as it may be the more inclusive term. Engagement seems to suggest a more intentional and deliberate connection; whereas, many of our connections are not intentional, deliberate, or even conscious. When I breathe air with you, I usually don't think about it, but it's a connection that I ignore at my peril.

I'm human, then, because I think and feel, and I think and feel because I connect to others. Without my communities, I really wouldn't have much thought or feeling. I wouldn't be human.

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